What a year it was for the Minnesota Wild. After a season that went beyond many fans’ expectations and the long-awaited debut of Calder Trophy winner Kirill Kaprizov, it was quite the whirlwind for the Wild during the 2020-21 season. However, with that overachieving season came a whirlwind of an offseason where general manager Bill Guerin was a busy man.
In one of the most shocking moves of the offseason and potentially Wild history, alternate captains Zach Parise and Ryan Suter were bought out of the rest of their matching 13 year, $98 million contracts that they signed nine years ago. It was a move that cleared some cap space but also left a huge hole, especially with Suter’s departure. In an inflated defenseman market, the Wild did their best to find a replacement, with their key free-agent signing being veteran defenseman Alex Goligoski. Goligoski, a Minnesota product, comes home to the Wild after five years out in the desert with the Arizona Coyotes. They also signed Dmitry Kulikov, Jonathon Merrill, and Jordie Benn. From the forward standpoint, they signed Frederick Gaudreau.
However, the biggest signings were their re-signings of Kevin Fiala and Kirill Kaprizov; the latter was much expected by Wild fans and was one of the biggest stories in the entire league during the offseason. In the draft, the Wild had two first-round picks and selected goaltender Jesper Wallstedt, and defenseman Carson Lambos at picks 20 and 26, respectively. Now that we have covered the offseason in length let’s preview what the Wild could look like this season.
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For the offense, the Wild this year will be looking for a more well-rounded offense from the entire lineup. Last year, the Wild had an 11 point gap between their leading points scorer, the aforementioned Kaprizov, and the second leading points scorer, the aforementioned Fiala. They will continue to rely on their forwards for their offense, but the defensemen are also capable of facilitating the offense with their playmaking skills. Keep an eye on who ends up being the center for Kaprizov and if Mats Zuccarello plays alongside him. If Zuccarello is on the same line as Kaprizov, their chemistry from last year was electric. The center could be a huge factor as Wild fans were in an uproar when Victor Rask was centering that line. However, if it is Joel Eriksson Ek who takes that spot, this could be a fun line to watch.
On the defensive side, there is no doubt that the loss of Suter will be felt on the back end. While Parise was starting to fade on the offensive end during the course of last year, Suter was still a very serviceable defenseman on the back end, and his presence will be missed. It’s more than likely that Goligoski will fill his spot on the top defensive pairing next to captain Jared Spurgeon. Much of their signings on the defensive side were more defensive defensemen, Goligoski and Kulikov the biggest examples. Be looking to see if the Wild defense becomes a little more stingy, especially on the penalty kill, and look for an increase in blocked shots.
In the crease for the Wild, it will once again be the tandem of Cam Talbot and Kaapo Kahkonen. It will be interesting to see what head coach Dean Evason decides to do with this tandem now that the league is back to a normal season. Last year, it was a 33 to 24 game split in Talbot’s favor. Look for Kahkonen to get more starts than last year as the team continues to groom him to be their starting goalie of the future. Also, look to see how Cam Talbot follows up on what was a great first year in Minnesota.
For the Wild, the key players are pretty easy to figure out. Well, at least one of them is pretty easy, but the second player is where some controversy may lie. So here are the key players for the Wild this season.
Of course, we had to start with the reigning Calder Trophy winner. Kaprizov will once again be the focus of the Wild offense, and Wild fans will certainly be excited to see what he can do with a full year. After not only winning the Calder but setting new Wild rookie records in points and goals, Kaprizov will look to once again lead the offense with his captivating play. Wild and hockey fans alike will be eagerly watching his sophomore year.
Now there are multiple players who could be the second key player. But Fiala makes the most sense because he has something to prove. Just like last year, Fiala waited quite some time before signing a contract with the team. But this time, he only signed a one-year deal for $5.1 million. He’ll come into this season looking to prove why he deserves a long-term deal, something along the line of Kaprizov’s five-year, $45 million contract he signed during the offseason. Keep an eye on Fiala to see if he plays with a sense of urgency.
Biggest Question Facing the Wild
This year, the biggest question for Minnesota has to be the new-look defensive core. How will they adapt with over half of the defensemen on the opening roster are new faces? It will be interesting to see what the lineup looks like when the Wild open the season in Anaheim against the Anaheim Ducks. Evason may play around with the defensive pairings until he finds something he likes, but if there is a constant, it will more than likely be the Goligoski-Spurgeon pairing.
With the divisions back to normal, the Central Division may be the most competitive division in the NHL this year. However, the Wild should be firmly in the mix to make the playoffs. It may come down to that defense, but the Wild could easily be one of the better teams in not only the division but in the Western Conference. Maybe even one of the best teams in the NHL. If Kaprizov, Fiala, and Eriksson Ek continue to progress like many are expecting, keep an eye on the Minnesota Wild. They might just make a lot of noise this year.
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